Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Higher education means higher costs

(Note: A printed version of this story is available in Laredo, Texas in the January 2007 edition of LareDOS. You can read more online at in pdf, too.)


Tenacity and staring into computers for hours could be the most important factors in finding affordable universities.
If the kids aren’t going to stay home and attend local higher education to reduce costs budget-minded parents might hope they eye crossing the Red River into Oklahoma, the Sabine into Louisiana, or have a sudden impulse to go to New Hampshire. New Hampshire state universities lead the nation in affordability with Texas’ border states Oklahoma and Louisiana close behind. Arkansas is consistently ahead of Texas, too.
Texas universities, a good buy in previous decades and magnet for numerous out-of-state students, has slipped to No. 23 in overall affordability in its state schools, according to statistics compiled by the Educational Policy Institute of Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
“The competition is out there and that is what it will come down to,” Adriana Marin, Laredo Community College’s interim student financial aid director, said. “Hopefully though, we will gain more money for our students.”
Research-minded students and parents can begin sizing up potential universities by visiting their Web sites. Many schools have started to include costs through links off the home page.
The difference between those happier more affordable days in Texas universities and today’s nerve-wracking, number crunching hunt for reasonable and acceptable tuition and fees stem from deregulation at the various state capitols. Some state schools are beginning to wonder if they should drop the word state from their names.
“Every year we get less and less from the state. We get less than 25 percent of our money from the state now,” Dorothy Evans, Texas State’s director of alumni relations said in a recent visit to Laredo. “We’re not alone.”
Evans noted that the situation puts increasing importance and stress on fund-raising positions at the university.
Texas State, which changed its name from Southwest Texas State University a few years ago, continues to grow and has seen its enrollment double to 27,500 from its more affordable days in the 1970s. Texas State includes a new Round Rock campus, but the San Marcos-based school had to issue bonds to build there.
Evans said her association wants to build a $15 million alumni center in San Marcos, but the university won’t give them any money for it.
She believes there is some lobbying for higher education in Austin, but not enough.
“John Connally was the last governor that cared about education,” Evans said. “There is lobbying every year, but there is lots of money for the prisons.”
Connally was first elected governor in 1962 and re-elected twice to two more 2-year terms.
“When the State legislature cuts appropriations to colleges and universities there are only a few other sources of revenue available to these institutions and tuition is one of these sources,” Martha Ellis, president of the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities, said in an e-mail from Baytown where she also serves as president of Lee College. “When choices are made to not use public money to support public higher education, the burden will fall on the shoulders of the student.”
Sandy Baum, senior policy analyst for the College Board and professor of economics at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., says affordability seekers need to eye and research their intended universities carefully, but apply as early as possible to avoid missing any benefits hiding in the background. Baum notes that numerous doors open once accepted.
“Do not just look at the published price,” she said by phone. “The figures might show a school to be a little more cheap, but they might not have more money to help you.
“In Texas, Rice, for example, might the most expensive, but they would have more money to help students.”
Baum re-affirms that community colleges are the bargain, where many students also qualify for financial aid, but being able to attend one depends largely on the region as some states have more 2-year colleges than others. Laredo has Laredo Community College where a 15-hour semester’s total in tuition and fees costs $858. The same number of hours at Laredo’s Texas A&M International University cost $2,339.
Marin understands the financial battle students and parents face both from professional and personal views. She has two college-age children.
“I think it’s gotten out of hand. The cost is going sky high,” Marin said.
Marin says her colleagues around the country are watching state capitols and the new U.S. Congress, hoping for some help.
The U.S. new 110th Congress’ new Democratic-led House of Representatives voted 356-71 on Jan. 17 to cut interest rates on student loans in half to 3.4, passing the bill onto the Senate.
The interest rate cut, if it passes the Senate, will help, but Marin echoes Baum’s call to register as soon as possible, too. There is no substitute for planning.
“If you plan carefully, I think you can succeed and get your 4-year education,” Marin said.
Marin adds that one has to watch out for the difference between desire and reality, pointing toward potential roadblocks like the high cost of a $4,000 semester at the University of Texas against a once a year $4,050 PELL grant.
U.S. Democratic Senators Kennedy and Obama have introduced legislation to raise the PELL grant maximum to $5,100. The $4,050 ceiling has remained the same for four years.
“It doesn’t matter where you go, the thing is to go,” Marin said. “Even if you’re not going to LCC, we help fill out forms for money for college.”
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has been initiating and pushing legislation to encourage students to finish in that desired 4-year time frame, which would save students and universities money.
Last year Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named her to head Texas’ subcommittee on higher education. Zaffirini holds a doctoral degree and taught at Laredo Junior College before joining the legislature in 1987.
She knows she has some serious challenges to make Texas universities more affordable again.
“I have a passion for higher education,” she said. “In a visit to Texas A&M I discovered that very few were graduating in four years.”
Zaffirini knows there are many whose personal situations don’t allow for a straight 4-year run to finish their bachelor’s degrees, but believes that the majority of college-age students could enroll with a solid degree plan. There would be the inevitable changes to almost all plans, but she sees savings through the more organized pathway to a degree.
Zaffirini has found problems with some university advisors in Texas – sometimes costing students an additional year through poor planning and advice. Zaffirini notes that her son, Carlos Jr., was almost forced to spend an extra year at the University of Texas for one course, but went over an advisor’s head and gained admission to the class.
“She was technically correct and following the rules,” Zaffirini said.
Zaffirini doesn’t believe students should have to do that and wants to see advisors improved through staff development: hoping to head off those upper class dilemmas.
Zaffirini also favors capable high school students taking college courses and testing out of subjects they already know.
“Laredo students could get 16 hours in Spanish,” she said. “For all who grew up in Laredo it could be pretty easy.”
Zaffirini would like to see more incentives for college-bound students to prepare and says higher education would be free if she had absolute say-so, believing college is a right and not a privilege, but the state can’t afford that now, so money has to be used wisely.
Zaffirini is optimistic for affordability in Texas universities, basing part of it on Dewhurst’s interest in higher education.
Laredo’s U.S House Rep. Henry Cuellar carries a serious bent on education, too, as Congress’ most degreed member with five and doesn’t believe students and parents should worry too much if pursuit of an education leads out of town. Cuellar made the unusual transfer from Laredo Junior College to the Ivy League’s Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Cuellar credits his time at Georgetown for some of his most important individual development, noting it as probably the best move he made in his academic days. It is uncommon for Ivy League schools to accept junior college transfers, but Cuellar made that transition despite growing up with the same strong family ties many of his constituents have.
Sometimes those ties are too strong to permit the out-of-town transfer as Cuellar witnessed in a recent case of a young girl that could have gone to Georgetown as he did.
“My parents were crying, but after a while they said go ahead,” he said. “Georgetown, to me, was a catalyst in seeking more education – the law degree and PhD.”
Cuellar liked studying with students from 26 other countries and found some of them similar to him in personality, but saw differences, too, as he planned to “work harder than the person next to me” with the goal of getting into law school.
Cuellar got through Georgetown, a catholic university, with two part-time jobs, work study and a small loan of $3,000 – small by most standards, but it was enough to teach him an understanding of what many students go through.
Cuellar notes that college costs have risen by some 41 percent since 2001 and Congress aims to cut student loan interest rates in half, from an average of 6.8 to 3.4, aiming largely toward low middle class income families. The Democratic-led aim is to help students hurdle more financial barriers, giving them a larger choice of schools.
Even if the Senate and President side with the House on lowering student loan interest rates, the overall costs remain high and look to continue rising without more support be it from state or federal sources. The battle rages.
“One thing I can assure you, all presidents are cognizant of the rising cost and are truly working to be efficient in our operations while assuring the quality of our mission--teaching, research, and service,” Ellis said. “We are committed to the importance of an educated workforce for the economic development of our state, be it the operator in the petrochemical industry or the surgeon in the hospital.
“We know that if Texas is to be competitive with other states we must have an educated workforce. Therefore we are attempting to do more with less so that we can continue to close the gaps and educate an additional 500,000 people in the next 10 years. The future of Texas is directly related to quality of our higher education institutions and to having students attend these institutions.”

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blood Diamond review


A few years ago one could hardly find a good movie, but nowadays it is tough to find the time to see all the good ones.
Hollywood has advanced from the days when it seemed like Stephen Spielberg was the only one there who consistently knew how to make a good movie. Hollywood is making better movies and “Blood Diamond” is certainly one of them.
“Blood Diamond” might have rated 15 habaneros on a scale of 1 to 10 several years ago, but gets a good, fat, healthy 8 now, despite a few familiar movie ploys, which stem from the bad recent days of Hollywood when the makers couldn’t get the funding from the financiers without including several scenes that were clearly adapted from previous successful productions.
“Blood Diamond” will remind veteran moviegoers right away of 1983’s “Under Fire,” starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy. Both movies are set in real life civil wars in tropical settings, focusing on international journalists and, or action-type people.
Rapidly rising star Leonardo DiCaprio, doing well these days in intense, edgy roles, is the former mercenary, with a credible white Zimbabwe accent, who has gone into smuggling diamonds from war-torn Sierra Leone through neighboring Liberia in the late 1990s. Sweet-faced Jennifer Connelly is the still idealistic international journalist Maddy Bowen who DiCaprio’s Danny Archer meets in a Freetown beachside bar, sparking a budding romance that never has but a few brief moments of peace to feel like it has a chance of going anywhere.
There isn’t much peace in a civil war with people making millions off diamonds sold to finance guns and ammunition and “Blood Diamond” -- blending thrilling action in several battle scenes with artfully sprinkled philosophical and moral points – makes three hours zip by quicker than a round from an AK47.
The action picks up shortly after Djimon Hounsou starts the movie in a seaside fishing village as fisherman and net mender Solomon Vandy. “Gladiator” fans will remember him as Maximus’ friend Juba and the last one to leave the area after the final fight scene in the coliseum.
Vandy is captured by rebels invading his village and taken to work in a river, digging for diamonds. He comes up with a big one, and mindful of his son Dia who wants to grow up to be a doctor, doesn’t hesitate to find a way to keep it for himself. The rebels’ brutality doesn’t hurt his angst with them, either.
Dia is captured by the rebels and coerced into becoming a boy soldier, adding a sub-
story to the drama, leading to one of several endnotes as topical as tonight’s television newscast.
“Blood Diamond” is very entertaining, but it’s more than entertainment – blood diamonds exist and this movie carries a documentary tilt to it, reminding us that people die to have pretty brides wear pretty wedding rings.
Archer gets caught smuggling at the border and he and Vandy are pushed together after the rebel diamond digging camp is attacked by government forces just in the nick of time. Vandy is taken to a Freetown prison with everyone else where the wounded rebel camp commander fingers him for hiding the big “pink” diamond. Vandy and Archer are freed just in time to dodge bullets, rockets and grenades in one of several very well-shot battle scenes on a level with the best ever seen in a movie as rebels attack the capital city.
Cinematography in the rest of “Blood Diamond” is pretty good, too.
Cameras make the most of scenes filmed in South Africa and Mozambique, including enough wild life, cloud forests and mountains to entice almost any itchy-footed traveler. Properly photographed city slums, devoid of the usual in-your-face beggars found in much of the third world, have a deceiving comfortable look to them.
“This is Africa, or T-I-A,” is used carefully a few times by Archer and his former mercenary commander, Arnold Vosloo as Colonel Coetzee, when discussing the violence and Africa’s troubles. “This is Africa” might sound a lot like “It’s the Code of the West” heard frequently in James Coburn and Carroll O’Connor’s 1967 western comedy “Waterhole #3.” There is a certain smile, as with that same quote in “Waterhole,” that goes with “T-I-A” each time and punctuates the script when Archer and Coetzee use it in one of the final scenes as the colonel is gunned down.
Only a quick eye would catch the obvious minor error that notes online in the 1999 London street scene near the end when a 2005 Volkswagen slips past filmmakers.
“Blood Diamond” brings plenty of entertainment to the screen. Be prepared to be pinned down in your seat for one of the more engaging, quicker long rides eyes and mind can travel via the big screen.

Note: A printed version of this review is available in Laredo, Texas in the January 2007 edition of LareDOS. You can see in pdf at

That very impressive instant


Words can’t always describe the sight that stops a traveler or meets the eye head on, halting all movement for an instant.
That instant is usually repeated several times and frequently lengthened with the traveler’s eyesight finding a vista, valley, gorge, mountain, meadow, friendly walking trail, sunset, sunrise, river, creek, woods, grassy riverbank or silhouetted skyline, which won’t let go. These enlightened moments of appreciation are normally near the end of a vacation, or sometimes a light business trip when realization sets in that this sight can’t be seen at home – and certainly not at work.
Frequently, the sight is a quick flash -- a silvery, glistening-in-the-sun fish popping up out of nowhere, leaping for a fly, despite being surrounded by hungry seagulls, or the sun’s select rays breaking through low clouds at dusk over a seaside rock formation you’ll probably never see again. Anyone’s eye and mind-catching instant could be in the mountains, by a river, in a forest, in a desert, or in the concrete canyons of an unfamiliar city. These individual instances vary between the viewer and the scenery with as many possibilities and philosophical interpretations as the mind allows.
Such sights can spark a slumbering inner optimism and keep it up – after all, that hungry fish had the guts to jump for a buzzing insect and survived, or maybe those sunrays did break through the clouds so nicely over that big rock just for me? After all, it was a busy, hard year, so it’s deserved.
These sights seem to help sustain through the work stress from one break to another, much like a series of contracts.
Take it in. That mind-friendly, relaxing views of rocks, sea, birds, sun, beach and otherwise near silent serenity isn’t anything like that hallway down to the boss’ office, or that fake wood paneling up over the computer that sees you at your most stressed moments.
Each following glance toward that friendly, but fleeting traveler’s sight is followed by a series of smiles until the thought that only a photograph might remain from that instant.
A few lucky people have a ranch, or possibly a friend’s or relative’s farm they can visit where friendly rock formations, river bends, woods or nearby chirping birds or the sight of other wildlife help relax. Several neighborhoods in South and Central Texas are home to deer herds. Some nicely kept and carefully gardened backyards offer some of those instances of visual-to-mental escape, too.
For those who don’t have those visual relaxation aides at home or nearby, it’s a good idea to seize the moment whenever and wherever it presents itself.
Some find a dash of that renewing visual-to-mental relief through other’s photos on the new photo-share Web sites. Others find a touch of it on their computer screen’s photos – taken by someone they don’t know and often of places they don’t know, but the effect is much the same, despite being on a lower and less personal scale.
Seeing and experiencing one’s own vistas and photographing it gets the recommendation, but as stress doesn’t do anyone any lasting good, any of the visual aides which axe the stress monster deserve good play.
Walk, look, enjoy the sights and sites, click the camera shutter and kill the old stress monster as many times as time allows. Longer life could be available through the eye and a wide-angle lens.
The Laredo-area offers some worthwhile sights along the river and some find comfort in the big sky, which is easily taken for granted until visiting other places where the sky is smaller as it’s blocked out or partially obscured. Some of the local big sky is more visible when traveling south toward Zapata, or in those ultra clear day southside vistas in which the Sierra Madre near Monterrey is just slightly visible.

Note: A printed version of this is available in the January issue of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas and it can be seen online in pdf at

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Kids speak honestly and quickly

Kids Really Think Quickly!!

TEACHER : Maria, go to the map and find North America.

MARIA : Here it is!

TEACHER : Correct. Now class, who discovered America?

CLASS : Maria!


TEACHER : Why are you late, Frank?

FRANK : Because of the sign.

TEACHER : What sign?

FRANK : The one that says, "School Ahead, Go Slow."


TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?

JOHN : You told me to do it without using tables!


TEACHER : Glenn, how do you spell "crocodile?"


TEACHER : No, that's wrong

GLENN : Maybe it s wrong, but you asked me how I spell it!


TEACHER : Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?


TEACHER : What are you talking about?

DONALD : Yesterday you said it's H to O!


TEACHER : Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we didn't
have ten years ago.



TEACHER : Goss, why do you always get so dirty?

GOSS : Well, I'm a lot closer to the ground than you are.


TEACHER : Millie, give me a sentence starting with "I."

MILLIE : I is...

TEACHER : No, Millie..... Always say, "I am."

MILLIE : All right... "I am the ninth letter of the alphabet."


TEACHER : Can anybody give an example of COINCIDENCE?

TINO : Sir, my Mother and Father got married on the same day, same


TEACHER : George Washington not only chopped down his father's cherry
tree, but also admitted doing it. Now, Louie, do you know why his father
didn't punish him?"

LOUIS : Because George still had the axe in his hand.


TEACHER : Now, Simon, tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?

SIMON : No sir, I don't have to, my Mom is a good cook.


TEACHER : Clyde, your composition on "My Dog" is exactly the same as
your brother's. Did you copy his?

CLYDE : No, teacher, it's the same dog!!


TEACHER : Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when
people are no longer interested?

HAROLD : A teacher

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Crytpo Judaism -- does any linger?

Note: A print version of this story appeared in the December issue of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas, but more about LareDOS can be seen online, and in pdf form, at


Mysteries course through our blood like raindrops on a lake and Jewish Sephardic lines and stories of modern crypto Jews surface frequently in South Texas and Mexico.
Plenty of evidence points to a past, in which Spain’s infamous Inquisition burned many at the stake, fueled the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and forced many to go underground. Much of that evidence extends to modern family storytelling and historical research about many of the crypto Jews pioneering Spain’s colonization into what is now northern Mexico and Texas – out in the wilds and away from church or government officials who might prefer to burn them at the stake.
Experts say the crypto Jews of the American Southwest and northern Mexico probably gave up their hidden Judaism for the safer Catholicism two or three generations after landing in the Americas, but that’s only because none have stepped forward with any concrete proof.
And they possibly never will.
Most likely.
Seth Ward at the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver writes that the term crypto Jew is always used with respect to Sephardic converts to Christianity, but it could be said to apply to the secret Judaism practiced under Islam when the Almohades invaded Spain in the 12th century; in Mashhad, Iran in the 19th and 20th centuries and possibly to the Turkish Donme.
“Due to its secretive nature, a sense of community was possible only in fairly remote areas; even so, there was a constant fear that a practice might give them away to the authorities, or even that a family member might turn them in,” Ward’s story adds. “Crypto-Judaism is used to refer to a wide range of phenomena. In some cases, families are reported to have transmitted explicit statements such as ‘We are Jews’ through the generations.”
Corpus Christi-based historian and retired ethnology professor Leonardo Carrillo says some families passed down house keys from homes in Spain. Hopes were that the Inquisition would one day fade away, allowing Sephardic Jews to return home.
Crytpo Jews occupy an obscure corner of North American and European history, but their descendents appear to be all around and among us in abundance – leaving any future crypto Judaism to most likely fall into urban legend, possibly rising in a fiction novel, or a movie.
“So are there any crypto Jews today? NO,” Historian, archivist and “Silent Heritage” author Richard G. Santos, of San Antonio, said by e-mail. “What you will find are their descendents whose religious beliefs and practices will vary according to their familial religiosity, upbringing, worldview and heritage awareness.”
Carlos M. Larralde writes online at that Laredo founder Spanish army Cpt. Tomas Sanchez and most of this city’s original settlers came with Jewish bloodlines, too. Larralde lives in the San Diego, California-area, but like many Laredoans claims to be a Sanchez descendent.
Larralde noted Sanchez’s connections to Judaism in his story.
“During Colonial Mexico, the Sanchez family used different surnames, a practice common among Hispanic Jews. Like other Jews, Sanchez had confidence in himself,” his story said. “Sanchez’s family roots sprang from Nuevo Leon since the 1600s, as part of the community founded by New Christian Governor Luis Carvajal y de la Cueva. There were probably 100 or more families.”
Carvajal was later found to be Jewish and many of his family and associates were victims of the Inquisition.
Carvajal came to Mexico through Portugal and Carrillo says Carvajal’s followers were Jews expelled from Spain, staying in Portugal long enough to be called Portuguese, escaping Spanish decrees against traveling to the Americas.
None of this surprises Laredo archivist and businessman Armengol Guerra who points to the online names section of
“It looks like the Laredo phone book,” Guerra said. “Probably 60 percent of the names in Laredo are of Jewish descent.
“Why come here in the mid-1700s when there was nothing here?” Guerra asked. “I think they wanted to be free of the Inquisition. It is surprising to a lot that they are Sephardic and not just Spanish and Mexican.” says the word Sephardic came from Roman times when many Jews were exiled from the Holy Land to the Iberian Peninsula.
“The area became known by the Hebrew word Sephard meaning far away. The Jews in Spain and Portugal became known as Sephardim or Sephardi, and those things associated with the Sephardim including names, customs, genealogy and religious rites, became known as Sephardic,” the Web site says.
Here in South Texas, weekends would have been different in a Jewish home. Carrillo says the Saturday Sabbath really began at sundown on Friday when candles were lit.
“They were not supposed to work, sweep, bath or eat pork,” Carrillo said. “They were obliged to eat pork in the daytime, but not at home.”
Carrillo says weeks were counted in eight days, too.
Carrillo, Santos and others note the appearance of numerous Ladino words popping up in Spanish-language conversations. Ladino was the dialect of Sephardic Jews taken with them when fleeing Spain after Queen Isabela’s expulsion decree in 1492.
Variations like muncho instead of mucho and comite rather than comiste are only two Ladino examples, but many more are listed in the growing number of Web sites dedicated to crypto and Sephardic heritage.
More information is showing up in libraries and bookstores, too.
Santos has taken some criticism for his work as it tends to divulge the family secret, as he told Austin Chronicle reviewer David Garza in 2001 after his book “Silent Heritage” was published.
Carrillo and Santos both note that some family lineage secrets include the marriage of cousins. Carrillo says there were some cases of close cousins marrying, but Santos says the Catholic Church didn’t allow first cousins to marry and the term cousin has a different meaning in the extended families of Mexico and South Texas.
“The licencias matromoniales conducted before any marriage could be performed attest to the fact they did each parties' family tree to their great great grand parents. Uncles marrying nieces and aunts marrying nephews were not uncommon. Second, third and etc. cousins marrying were also not uncommon as they were not illegal or prohibited,” Santos said in e-mail. “Bear in mind that in the Hispanic and Mexican culture the extended family bridges generations. Therefore, distant relatives are frequently referred to as cousins, uncles, aunts etc. even though they could be four generations removed. “
Loose-lipped family could give a crypto away, but dangers existed in public habits, too.
Converted Jews, or conversos, and their family members weren’t free of discrimination and the Inquisition by simply converting to Catholicism, but they, and the cryptos, could hide their faith, or links to Judaism by publicly violating kosher dietary laws when they ate pork, or shellfish. Muslims, also eventually forced to convert or leave Spain, had a similar diet and the same security problem.
Some people of crypto descent have maintained old handed down habits and claim to be allergic to pork.
“I don’t think you would have to look too far for an illustrative crypto Jew. You might find one on your own newspaper,” Dr. Jack Zeller said. “Many people know that their family is a bit odd since they have family customs that are very important that are never discussed outside the family. Anyone on your staff that thinks their family has an allergy to pork are good candidates. There is no such medical entity.”
Zeller speaks with authority as both a physician and president of Zulanu, a worldwide Jewish social and educational organization.
Zeller and others in synagogues and Jewish organizations have increasingly met people who came to believe that they are Jewish in habit and ancestry. But Jewish leaders constantly remind Web site readers and researchers that Judaism is a religion and not a race, leaving traceable bloodlines to the Semitic peoples, which includes vast numbers in the Middle East and Asia Minor.
Leaders also note a membership surge, which appears to have emotional, if not direct blood ties to that crypto, or converso, past.
An Oct. 29, 2005 New York Times story notes the strong growth of Judaism in the American Southwest.
“It is difficult to know precisely how many Hispanics are converting or adopting Jewish religious practices, but accounts of such embraces of Judaism are growing more common in parts of the Southwest,” Simon Romero’s story said. “In Clear Lake, a suburb south of Houston, Rabbi Stuart Federow has overseen half a dozen conversions of Hispanics in recent years. In El Paso, Rabbi Steven Leon said he had converted almost 40 Hispanic families since moving from New Jersey to Texas 19 years ago.”
Much of the same is happening much farther south in Brazil where Kobi Ben Simhon wrote for Ha’aretz’ online version on March 24 last year that all signs indicate a crypto Jewish awakening in search of its roots.
Simhon quotes from Israeli professor Avi Gross, of Ben-Gurion University, an expert on Spanish and Portuguese Jewry, while using the word Marranos, a derogatory word meaning swine, which stems from terminology in the expulsion from Spain.
“He describes a conversation he had in Sao Paolo with prof. Anita Novinsky, a world expert on the Inquisition – ‘She denies persistence of Judaism among the Marranos, yet she admits, as she told me, that Brazil is seething with Judaism below the surface.’ I will not forget what she said about one of the descendents of the Marranos I met – that he carries history in his flesh and blood.
“From my point of view as a historian, that is a definitive statement. After all, she is highly critical of the way historical research has idealized the Marranos’ preservation of Judaism, and when she says something like that she apparently knows whereof she speaks.”
Houston’s Family Tree DNA is one of several companies that could help some decide if they are of Jewish ancestry, but this tester has a Jewish-specific test.
“We could tell you if those clues indicate a possible Jewish ancestry, or if you are related to someone that is in our database. Our Jewish specific comparative databases are the largest in the world containing records for Jews of Ashkenazi and Sephardic origins, as well as Levite and Cohanim,” Family Tree’s Web site says.
Owner Bennett Greenspan says he contracts with the University of Arizona for Family Tree testing.
Greenspan is an amateur genealogist and has read about human migrations since watching National Geographic television specials as a boy. Greenspan notes the reasoning and logic behind why great numbers of Jews would have come to the Americas. Anyone lacking an army to fight back with most likely would have fled to remote places, too, but the DNA he finds in those Jewish heritage tests net much the same findings he would get testing a Palestinian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Syrian, Saudi Arabian or someone else from that region.
“I think a lot of Palestinians are Muslims, but were Christians and Jews, but they were not deported by the Romans,” he said by phone from Houston. “I think many were fighting Rome some 2,000 years ago. The DNA between the Palestinians and Jews is closer.”
Greenspan has been in the DNA business since 1999 when he bought another company’s test for a friend from Argentina, but says there’s a lot of work to do, hoping to get more information about those Spanish exiles “and make it easier for people to look up.” He is also diving more into Mexico’s intriguing gene pools, which include earlier groups than the crypto Jews.
Experts might have the confidence to bet money that no more crypto Jews exist, but they might be conservative in their betting, too.
“For many decades it was assumed that no crypto Jews remained in Iberia, but in 1917 Samuel Schwarz, a Polish Jewish engineer, stumbled upon remnants of crypto Jews in the village of Belmonte, Portugal,” Ward writes. “Attempts to revive crypto-Judaism at this time were defeated by opponents, but in 1932 interest in the crypto Jews of Spain and Portugal, and their contemporary descendents, was first popularized by the famous Judaic scholar Cecil Roth with the publication of “A History of the Marranos.” Much has changed since then, including gradual replacement of the negative Spanish word Marrano with the positive terms crypto Jews or anuism (forced converts).”
Santos’ epilogue in “Silent Heritage” places Laredo in the New Kingdom of De Leon founded by Carvajal and his crypto followers, which evolved into South Texas and the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Tamaulipas. This territory became a patria chica, or little homeland, separate from the other patria chica around present day New Mexico and remote from Mexico City’s bureaucracy.
Santos writes that the founding families of both patrias chicas were mostly of Sephardic descent.
“It mattered not if they were crypto Jews or sincere converses; they were Sephardic by culture. They were the ruling class and landed aristocracy. As such, their culture, worldview, cuisine and lifestyle was imitated not only by their Christian counterparts, but by the converted and assimilated Native American Indian cultures,” Santos wrote.
Turkish-born Laredo businesswoman Matilde Frank, 84, has assimilated into Mexican and United States cultures from Sephardic roots established after the 1492 expulsion from Spain.
Her family was able to practice their faith openly in Turkey and could in Mexico, but some of that old Inquisition-based discrimination lingered when she was a little girl in her second of three countries.
“Little by little it got better,” she said in both English and Spanish. “Thanks to the foreigners, Mexico is getting growing up, and the U.S., too.”
Frank recalls a lifetime in sales in Mexico and the U.S., but sees love as the top product sought everywhere and that commonality serves to break down barriers between divided peoples.
“People want to be loved. Everybody, somewhere inside has a heart,” she said.
Frank also notes the world’s people taking more control of their lives and their country’s directions in recent decades much more so than in past centuries, denying chances for policies like the Inquisition to happen again.

Note: Some of the other Web sites related to crypto Judaism:

Most of these sites also provide numerous links to others.

Robert F. Kennedy

RFK was one of the casualties of social change, or seemed to be, when he was gunned down in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in the summer of 1968.

The movie "Bobby" was Emilio Estevez's first as writer and director, but it still honored Kennedy with some great performances and a well-done ending. Sharon Stone certainly proved she can act.

U.S. Senate photo

Bobby review

Note: This is derived from a print version of this review in the December 2006 edition of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas. LareDOS can be seen online at


“Bobby” could have been called “Hotel” with the various subplots developing in and around Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel the night Robert Kennedy was shot in 1968.
Actor, screenwriter and director Emilio Estevez let his movie highlight the essence of the ‘60s – breaking racial barriers and working together as one nation – but, it started too slow in its little stories of people in the hotel in their stories to grab all the audience it could have.
This movie is semi-documentary, using RFK news clips and others from marches, riots and Vietnam, but it also has a generation gap. The meanings and nuances of the cinematography, dialogue and Kennedy’s hope-raising presidential campaign speeches bring back that era for those who lived in 1968, but it could come off like ancient history overkill for kids and young adults.
Personal buttons touched by the ideals and experiences of that time -- which the movie hits on more than misses – give “Bobby” the chance to sit much higher with some viewers than others.
Anyone who recalls watching television that night of June 5, 1968 might feel moved by the movie’s well-planned end. Viewers remembering that night and those surprising televised instances of the wounded and bleeding Kennedy lying on the kitchen floor hold their breath as he smiles and ends the ballroom appearance saying, “Now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.”
Estevez’s “Bobby” goes right to the gut in the effective mix of RFK’s pointed speeches stoked with the ideals of that era over Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” as he and his entourage exit the ballroom after acknowledging the presidential primary victory. The pace through the kitchen is deliberately slow, allowing more emotional buildup as star-cast subplot characters assemble, finding their place at that instant when assassin Sirhan Sirhan shoots Kennedy and wounds several of the others whose lives took them within range of Sirhan’s pistol as shocked and angered RFK backers wrestled the shooter to the ground.
“Bobby” also comes off much like a 1970s disaster movie with its smattering of big stars in supporting roles, but moved from a seven habanero to nine habanero rating here in the end from this reviewer, who vividly recalls being up watching TV alone that night up the coast north of Los Angeles in California in 1968.
Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, William H. Macy, Helen Hunt, Christian Slater, Laurence Fishburne, Martin Sheen, Heather Graham, Harry Belafonte and Ashton Kutcher are the more familiar faces doting the subplots and some carry major roles in the dramatic kitchen shooting scene. Wood, Hunt and Slater are wounded as are campaign volunteers played by Shia LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty a few hours after recovering from an acid trip with Kutcher trying to play the pusher.
Kutcher didn’t bring much energy to this role, but his real-life wife Demi Moore did well as the boozy singer Virginia Fallon on the downside of her career. Fallon is married to Estevez, playing her edgy husband and frustrated manager Tim Fallon. He exits the movie, leaving her while coincidentally bumping into Sirhan at the front door.
Stone handled her role so well as the cuckolded beautician Miriam Ebbers married to hotel manager Paul Ebbers, played by Macy, that it was easy to forget that she is the former “Basic Instinct” star. Paul’s affair with switchboard operator Angela, played by Heather Graham, ends earlier on that fatal summer day, but Slater, playing fired kitchen manager Daryl complicates the matter by telling Miriam. Paul later slugs Daryl for doing that.
Hopkins, Hunt, Lohan, Sheen – Estevez’s father -- and Wood didn’t hurt themselves any in their supporting roles. Fishburne was effective as chef Edward Robinson, but his overly gracious acceptance of two free Dodger baseball game tickets from Jose Rojas, played very well by Freddy Rodriguez, might have been overbaked.
Jose, a low-paid kitchen helper, reluctantly, but of his own free will gave away his two tickets to the game in which Dodger pitching great Don Drysdale was to pitch a record sixth consecutive shutout that night. Kennedy acknowledged the feat in his final speech in the ballroom and it was Jose shaking RFK’s hand and looking at him with a visible heartfelt smile as the first bullets hit the senator. It was also Jose seen trying to keep Kennedy from bleeding to death in those chaotic flashes of TV footage from the kitchen floor.
Chef Edward had scribbled a note on the wall, tagging Jose as “The Once and Future King” after he was given the tickets. That graffiti was ironically splattered with blood in the assassination.
Estevez isn’t likely to win an Oscar for his first picture as writer and director, but he awarded the 1960s and its worthwhile ideals with a moment of deserved attention.